First off, this is in no way a "review," since I obviously have no right to review my own work, but I thought I might add a few thoughts and recollections about the recording of this particular collection, which I am delighted to see up here on archive.org
The terse description says this material was “recorded in Lo’s Bedroom at the band house in Ossining, NY.” This is true as far as it goes; but it conveys perhaps a misleading impression of intimacy, since my “bedroom” in the Ossining house was a gigantic, brick-floored, cathedral-ceilinged modern addition to a very old house, considerably bigger than the tracking rooms in many major NYC recording studios. How did this monstrosity get to be my bedroom? Well, let’s just say when the rooms were divvied up in the GSW house, I opted for square footage over privacy. Yes, I had space, but I also had a door that was inches from the kitchen fridge, a balcony overlooking my sleeping space that anyone could wander out onto, and huge curtainless picture windows facing out on the lawn. Not to mention those bricks were mighty cold on the feet on winter mornings.
Also, in this day and age of Cakewalk and GarageBand, where everyone has a 64-track studio built into their laptop, it is easy to forget that very recently we still had to record onto thick bands of magnetic tape, and if we wanted to mix, to do so on enormous battleship consoles. The Bedroom Sessions were recorded just before the advent of the digital recording revolution (which we benefited from 3 years later when we recorded “Red”). They involved moving an entire large analog recording studio into our house, and recording a lot of songs in a very short amount of time.
The reason for the recordings was simple: we had just signed a record deal with Geffen Records, and in order to better know the band they had just acquired, and to meddle more effectively with the making of our first album, the Geffen people wanted us to produce a demo with every original song we had. We knew that every song would be too many—we already had over 60 originals in rotation in our live shows at that point—but this was a nifty opportunity to record 33 of them. But the catch was that Geffen wasn’t offering to pay any money for these demos—they probably figured we’d start playing in a room and turn on a cassette deck. In true God Street Wine overkill fashion we decided to surprise them; but how would we produce a studio-quality demo without a studio?
That’s where Crossroads Studios came in. Crossroads was a large studio located on West 26th Street in Chelsea that was owned by a friend of Aaron’s father. Back in the 1970s it had been quite the place to record; Billy Joel cut all his mega-platinum hits there. We had recorded several demos at Crossroads the time-honored sleazy budget way: by going in after midnight and recording with our engineer friend, Joe Rogers, without paying a dime to the studio. Joe later went on to record our first indie CD “Bag” with us, as well as recording the Bedroom Sessions.
Anyway, at about the same time we were wondering how we were going to manage to demo 33 tracks for Geffen, Aaron got the news that Crossroads Studios was going out of business. How the mighty were fallen! Mark Freeh, the owner, was giving up his lease and moving all the gear into a storage locker, probably to be sold in bankruptcy proceedings. But this created a wonderful opportunity for us. All we had to do was move the gear into storage—incidentally setting it all up in our house for a few days and recording 33 songs on the way.
But I should emphasize that this was not “portable” gear. The 96-channel MCI console that once recorded “Big Shot” was made like furniture, complete with huge built-in patchbay and those big oaken sides. It took seven guys to lift; and I’m not talking hoist it up waist-high, I’m talking get in a couple millimeters off the ground, shuffle along for a few feet, then take a break. There was also a big 24-track analog machine, a 2-track deck, lots of baffles and goboes, and the mammoth studio snake. There were also dozens of U-87s which recorded most of the instrument tracks on the Bedroom Sessions.
So with superhuman efforts from Joe Rogers and our longtime friend, roadie, road manager, lighting designer, and poker companion Michael Weiss, we somehow got this ridiculous amount of gear transported to our house—in the middle of a blizzard, as I recall—and set up to actually record some audio. What about the performance?
Everything was recorded live on The Bedroom Sessions except the vocals. Originally we were set to do live vocals too, except if you use nice mics (the 87s) then they capture so much room ambience on everything else it makes the whole track sound like crap. So we just had a cue vocal—me or Aaron singing a little here and there to point out when a new verse was starting, etc—sometimes I think you can hear the cue vocal in the background, under the overdubbed vocal. Jon played his Kurzweil piano, not the real thing. His Leslie cabinet was under several mattresses and packing blankets for isolation. The other amps were all just out there in the room; Tomo’s drums were behind some large plexiglass baffles.
The performance presented little difficulty since we were, at this point, in the habit of playing about 200 or more shows a year. And when we weren’t playing a show we’d be rehearsing; we were pretty nuts about rehearsal, especially after we moved into the Ossining house and could just walk downstairs, have a bowl of Wheaties, and start playing, instead of having to books some roach-ridden Manhattan rehearsal room and meet there at 11 pm. So we knew the tunes cold; and we had probably actually played them way too much, because the tempos on these recordings are ridiculous fast. I doubt that we did more than 3 takes of any one song; the vast majority I think were 1st takes (Mike can correct me if I’m wrong, as on all the rest of this). The vocals, though overdubbed, were not punched or fixed—it was 1 pass and done.
If you want to know how we changed when we were “produced” by Jim Dickinson for “$1.99 Romances”, listen to the difference on tracks like “Tina’s Town”, “Thirsty,” and “Imogene.” Jim helped us clean a lot of things up—possibly at the expense of some manic energy. He forced us to slow down some tempos and keep them steadier. Our vocals definitely improved on the Geffen album. But the differences—mixing and mastering aside, of course—are really not that spectacular, in my view. What do you think? I’m sort of curious to hear.
What I enjoy most about hearing these tracks is the tunes that didn’t appear on any of our albums—“Change Your Mind,” “New Eyes,” “Ladyfingers,” “Hungry Again.” And the only studio recordings of instrumentals “Deep Drag” and “Stupid Hat.” The jazzy songs I wrote in music school with the too-complicated chords, like “God Street,” and the one-chord Talking Heads-derived oddities like “Seeing Your Meaning”, written when Tomo and I played in a high school band called the Lucky Charms. I think, by the way, there were more Bedroom recordings than currently appear in these collections—where’s “Into the Sea”? Where’s “Morning Cigarettes”? But you have to ask Mike about that. Anyway, it’s great that these are up here to listen to—please copy, burn, share, distribute however you please. I daresay the Geffen people got quite a demo out of us; now it belongs to everyone. I give it five fucking stars.
Somehow we got all the Crossroads studio gear into storage when we were done. That part has become somewhat cloudy in my memory, and I hope to keep it that way. Lo